It was a year ago today that I opened the doors and called out for writers to come together in my first Writing Circles. Although I had been imagining how it might work since the previous April and although I had spent a lot of time planning the format and layout, when I finally put up my signs and made the website live, I didn’t know who (if anyone) would come, how it would feel to bring together people from different walks of life to write, and if it would be a one-off experiment or something that I could sustain. Originally I thought I would run two circles: one in Cambridge and one in Harlton (a village just down the road from mine). The Cambridge one didn’t quite attract enough interest to run. But slowly and surely, the Harlton one filled: an acquaintance from my village, an artist with an incredibly beautiful website with haunting imagery and delicate haikus, someone who had written a children’s novel, a somatics and yoga teacher, people with whom I had crossed paths in our other roles, people who saw my signs in their villages.
I believe that just the right combination of writers came forward to form that first group. The whole experience was one of exhilaration and terror. Each week I stretched and pushed myself to create something that would support our writing and thinking. Each week they came back (they came back!) and whole-heartedly tried out my ideas, taking us in directions further and deeper than I had expected, bringing their own voices and perspectives. I loved it! And when the first round came to a close, several of them decided to carry on with a second six-week course. It was a privilege and a challenge to continue, and I learned so very much. In my experience of teaching, there has always been something special about the first group I’ve taught in a new setting – whether the 6th graders at the Salk School of Science in Manhattan from my student teaching days, or the 9th graders from the inner city of Columbus, Ohio, or the adults at Bellevue Community College in Washington – and this group was no different. There is something about going through a process together for the first time that marks the experience with a certain vibrancy.
After the initial Writing Circles concluded in the autumn, I knew that I had found something that I wanted to continue. With a bit more polish and focus, I conducted two more Writing Circles this spring and summer in Harston (another village down another road from mine), bringing together both new and familiar faces. As with the first group, I think the people who come forward each time are just the right combination to make us all grow. I count myself lucky to meet people whom I would have otherwise never met, to witness stories and poetry evolve from shadowy ideas to actual words on the page, and to spend my time and attention building unlikely communities.
I still get nervous before each session; preparing and imagining how it will go, whilst knowing that the unexpected is inevitable and something will come up that will take us in a different, but essential, direction. For me, this is what teaching has become: I strive to have a solid structure to hold the space, yet I want to leave doors and windows open so that inspiration might fly in and take us away.
And after each session, as I pack up my supplies, turn off the lights, and lock the door, I leave with a buoyancy and gratitude that, once again, we have come together to write, listen, and be a little more present with all the richness of our shared and individual experiences. This is work I love.